Cybersecurity in Shipping – Need, Challenges, and Future

Cybersecurity in Shipping – Need, Challenges, and Future

The shipping industry has gone through a tremendous transformation in the past year or so on a global scale. The main reason for the growth of the industry is automation. With the increase in automation in the shipping industry, there are constant threats to the ships in cyberspace. It has become increasingly challenging to protect ships from cyber threats and that is exactly where cybersecurity comes in. Ships have been using numerous cybersecurity measures to avoid threats, but that is not enough. Continuous development in technology makes it mandatory to regularly update the cybersecurity measures aboard ships.

The nature of cybersecurity risks is also increasingly evolving. The methods of cyber attacks change constantly and it is increasingly difficult to employ the necessary cybersecurity measures to prevent them. The most common cyber attacks include data breaches, ransomware incidents, malware contamination and invoice frauds. It has become important to protect the data on the ship’s servers against these threats. Cybersecurity protects any given enterprise against cyber attacks and unauthorized access to computerized systems, otherwise known as hacking.

In this article, we see the rising need for cybersecurity in ships, the challenges faced during implementation, and the future of cybersecurity in shipping.

Need for Cybersecurity in Ships

There have been several incidents as of late, which have emphasized the need for increased and more efficient cybersecurity measures in the shipping industry.

Fo example, the Clarksons cybersecurity hack in 2017, for one, was the biggest security breach in the shipping industry. It had a tremendous impact on the sector due to its high-profile nature. The world’s largest ship exporter, Clarksons suffered a cyber-attack when an isolated user account gained unauthorized access in their systems. Though the hack did not affect the company’s operations, it sure changed the company’s views on the importance of increased cybersecurity measures. The company has since then adopted and developed better security measures.

The need for cybersecurity can be better understood by studying the problems created by the lack of cybersecurity.  According to researchers, the advent of on-satellite connections has exposed ships to greater risks. In some cases, it might be possible for the hackers to even reroute the ships and send them off-course. Technology has advanced so much that the exaggerated threats we have seen in movies till now might actually have a chance of becoming real life security threats!

Hence, the ships need to be prepped using heightened security measures, since they are extremely vulnerable to cyber attacks. Port infrastructure should be managed properly. Invoice frauds at ports, has become increasingly common. It is thus imperative to secure the areas in need of enhanced security measures.

However, implementing cybersecurity is not as easy as it seems. There are several challenges that hinder the adoption of cybersecurity measures in ships.

Challenges in Cybersecurity

Challenges occur in every operation that is ever carried out. Since cybersecurity is a complicated field, the intensity of the challenges here is complicated than the usual.

  • Slow Adoption Rate

The biggest challenge that cybersecurity in shipping industry has to face is utilizing data to enhance the safety and security of ships. The field has been functioning in a set manner since decades. It is therefore hard to change its ways as fast as is needed in the current times.

  • Complex Systems

The complexity of the functioning of the maritime industry is beyond complicated and for it to adapt to the constantly evolving technology and cybersecurity measures can be quite challenging.

  • Changing Crew Members and Inconsistent Training

The maritime computer systems are constantly in flux as the crew is ever changing. Since the crew members are unfamiliar with the tech they are handling, most of the times, it can be a cybersecurity threat resulted by human interference and error.

  • Dependence on Terrestrial Infrastructure

The connection between onboard and terrestrial systems can be a challenge. The dependency of the cybersecurity on ships on the terrestrial infrastructure can result in delays, and in some case security threats to the ship and the organization.

Guidelines for Cybersecurity at Sea

In addition to setting up secure systems on the ship, there are certain guidelines that need to be followed by seafarers to ensure that boat security is not breached due to human error. These are:

  • Network Security

The digitization of the shipping sector has enabled all the information of the companies to be stored in cyberspace. Since the ships are constantly connected to satellites, there is a risk of unauthorized entry if the network security is weak. To avoid such security breaches, it is necessary to implement appropriate technical response and install multiple firewalls on the network.

  • Malware Prevention

An anti-malware policy must be implemented to defend the data of the company and protect the ship’s details. Malware is a malicious content that can damage systems. The hacker can also gain access to all the private information and can prove to be an imminent threat to the security of the company.

  • Risk Containment

Companies must ensure proper policies and actions to be taking place in case of a cyber attack. The threat must be contained as soon as possible, while in its initial stages. It is necessary to scout all files for potential threats or leaks, so that proper measures can be taken to defend the ships against them.

  • Configuration

A detailed plan covering all points about the ship’s vulnerabilities to strengths and the ability of the current cybersecurity team to protect it must be discussed. A strategy and plan to deal with a security breach should be covered beforehand.

  • Awareness

All the people on board as well as on the shore should be aware of the activities on the ship. The crew should be aware of how to handle the technical equipment on board and must also be properly trained at execution and containment in case of a security threat.

  • Monitoring

To assess a risk and snip it at its roots, it is necessary for the IT and cybersecurity crew to monitor the ship’s digital records and networks at all times.

The Present and Future of Cybersecurity

The lack of cyber safety in the shipping sector is shocking. In a research by Futurenautics, it is cited that only 12% of the crew on a ship receives at least some form of training about cybersecurity. 43% of the crew reported on having sailed on vessel that had been a victim of some form of cyber-attack.

The current functioning of cybersecurity in this sector functions mostly on outdated software and the lack of knowledge and awareness about the importance of cybersecurity.

For a better future of the shipping industry, it is necessary to adopt new and more enhanced methods of protecting the digital identity and data. Cybersecurity and awareness are the most important factors that can contribute towards keeping a ship safe. Routine checks and ECDIS procedures must take place.

Social engineering has become one of the most common techniques that hackers resort to, when they need access to a server. Knowledge of the crew about such things will minimize the risk of such attacks to take place. The most efficient way to ensure security is to properly train the crew about the benefits and importance of cybersecurity.


With the increase in the level of sophistication of the technology used onboard and offshore for ships, it is important to defend the network of the ships from cyber attacks. Thus, cybersecurity is of utmost importance in today’s world and must be made a top-priority issue in the maritime industry.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

back to top